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How to work with clients: Five rules for architects

Words:
Angharad Palmer

Pocket's new head of design and RIBAJ 2017 Rising Star Angharad Palmer shares her tips for a successful architect/client relationship. Part 1 guides architects through the waters

1. Avoid radio silence

It’s likely your clients will be working on numerous projects simultaneously and may not have read that tedious email thread that’s been in circulation for the past few days. If you have a question that needs an answer, pick up the phone, and make it as easy as possible for the client to make a decision there and then. Find quick ways to communicate the problem you’re hoping to resolve. Follow up the phone conversation with a sketch or email (that isn’t part of the mind numbingly long thread) to record your discussion. Radio silence post-novation is also a key issue. A degree of distance is required post novation, but the client remains keeper of the design throughout the life of a project, and wants to ensure the building is executed as expected with design integrity intact. Keep the client updated. If you haven’t seen a member of the client team at meetings for a while (probably due to other project commitments) get in touch and let them know how things are going.

2. Don’t take it personally

No one enjoys criticism. Unfortunately, clients must make difficult decisions and give the occasional criticism. Don’t see it as personal. Express and fight your case if you feel strongly about something but understand that ultimately the client needs to consider various factors including commercial notions, costs and programme, not just design. Consultants should respect the constraints and turn them to their advantage. If you don’t understand why a decision has been made, ask us to explain, don’t ruminate.

3. Seek repeat work

At Pocket we pride ourselves on building long lasting relationships with the architects we appoint. We want to award repeat work. The worst thing for clients is to complete a successful project with an architect then not hear from them for a long time. Don’t drift away, we want to hear from you. Organise a ‘lessons learnt’ review following the project. Be bold. Demonstrate to the client you recognise what could be done better next time – this can include pitfalls in the client’s performance. Taking the time to reflect on the success of a project shows you care, and makes your practice more likely to be rewarded with repeat work.

4. No sloppy seconds please

Unfortunately, we repeatedly review project documents with countless errors. Take care in your internal quality control process. Check work produced by part 1 and part 2 staff before submitting. Be rigorous. If you’re the project architect/associate/director – have someone check your work too. You’re never too old to make mistakes. While we understand that teams are often under pressure to submit work, the client shouldn’t be expected to review drawings for technical or graphical errors. Reviewing sloppy, half-finished drawings is irritating. Predicting whether drawings submissions are likely to be late and communicating this with your client in advance is key. If parts of a submission are unfinished, don’t issue them; tell us when they will be ready.

5. Handle with care

Inspire us, challenge us, but always handle us with care. At Pocket, we personally assist our first-time buyers through the home buying process, and as a result we feel a deep sense of responsibility for the homes we build. So handing over the reins to our architects to design an exemplar development can be challenging for our sense of loyalty to our buyers. It’s important that our architects are attentive to the project’s needs and share our collective sense of responsibility in understanding that these buyers are relying on us. It goes beyond bricks and mortar, these are people’s lives. 

Pocket Living upcoming scheme.
Pocket Living upcoming scheme.

The success of a project cannot solely rely upon the performance of architects and consultants, the client must set an example. Part 2 – advice for clients working with architects.

2017 Rising Star Angharad Palmer is head of design at affordable homes provider Pocket Living. RIBAJ Rising Stars is a scheme to recognise and reward up and coming construction professionals. It is open for entries now. Rising Stars is produced in partnership with Origin Doors and Windows.


 

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